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J Dev Orig Health Dis. 2011 Dec;2(6):322-9. doi: 10.1017/S2040174411000572.

Analyzing growth trajectories.

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  • 11Department of Biostatistics, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.
  • 22ECARES, Université libre de Bruxelles, Bruxelles, Belgium.
  • 37Institute of Information Theory and Automation of the ASCR, Pod Vod'arenskou věží 4, Prague 8, Czech Republic.


Growth trajectories play a central role in life course epidemiology, often providing fundamental indicators of prenatal or childhood development, as well as an array of potential determinants of adult health outcomes. Statistical methods for the analysis of growth trajectories have been widely studied, but many challenging problems remain. Repeated measurements of length, weight and head circumference, for example, may be available on most subjects in a study, but usually only sparse temporal sampling of such variables is feasible. It can thus be challenging to gain a detailed understanding of growth patterns, and smoothing techniques are inevitably needed. Moreover, the problem is exacerbated by the presence of large fluctuations in growth velocity during early infancy, and high variability between subjects. Existing approaches, however, can be inflexible because of a reliance on parametric models, require computationally intensive methods that are unsuitable for exploratory analyses, or are only capable of examining each variable separately. This article proposes some new nonparametric approaches to analyzing sparse data on growth trajectories, with flexibility and ease of implementation being key features. The methods are illustrated using data on participants in the Collaborative Perinatal Project.

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